Public outrage continues to mount against Hackney Council’s introduction of a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) which has been slammed by a leading homelessness charity Crisis as “criminalising the homeless”.
A petition has been launched against the Town Hall’s initiative, whilst local housing campaign group Digs says “a large number of people” are planning direct action to protest against the PSPO.
The council says the Protection Order is being put in place to tackle persistent “anti-social behaviour” such as begging, street drinking, and rough sleeping in designated “hotspots”: Hackney Downs, London Fields, Broadway Market, Mare Street and Regents Canal.
The PSPO gives the police and council officers the power to issue rough sleepers with a £100 on-the-spot fine but Deputy Mayor Sophie Linden insists: “Enforcement will always be a last resort and only used for those who continue to sleep rough and are part of the persistent anti-social behaviour that affects the safety and wellbeing of our residents”.
Hackney Council has also come under fire for failing to carry out a public consultation on the controversial measures.
In contrast Oxford City Council held a full consultation before introducing their PSPO. It consequently removed rough sleepers from its proposed list of ‘anti-social activities’ in the face of opposition from many local residents.
A Hackney Council spokesperson said the PSPO was given the go-ahead by the Chief Executive Tim Shields and consultation included six Community Action Panels (resident groups that work with the police and the Council to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour), businesses in Hackney Central, five local housing associations, and Hackney Police.
Several local organisations have spoke out against the Public Space Protection Order. Hackney Community Law Centre released a statement asking the Council to consider amending the PSPO.
Its chair Ian Rathbone said: “The order will not stop people sleeping rough. It will simply force them to sleep rough elsewhere, or else render them liable to prosecution.”
Commenting on the council’s stance, Heather Kennedy from Digs said: “People in Hackney are very angry about the council’s criminalisation of homeless people, particularly in the middle of a housing crisis, when the council has failed to support residents in housing need.
“If the Deputy Mayor, Sophie Linden, had bothered to carry out a public consultation she might have found this out. A large number of people are coming together to plan direct action against the PSPO. We will not rest until the criminalisation of homelessness in our borough is overturned.”
London Fields resident Guy Aitchison, 30, said: “This looks very much like a case of social cleansing by Hackney Council: an attempt to ‘clean up’ the borough for its more affluent residents and visitors.
“I live by London Fields and see no need for this. There are already plenty of laws in place to protect members of the public without these extra powers targeted at the most vulnerable.
“It is especially perverse given the huge shortfall in social housing and government cuts to benefits.”
Breaking the cycle
But Mike Nicholas, Communications Manager at Thames Reach, a homelessness outreach charity working alongside Hackney Community Safety enforcement, said the petition “confuses the realities of rough sleeping and begging. Most rough sleepers don’t beg.”
“The PSPO in Hackney is being used to tackle begging, which is linked with heroin and crack cocaine use, as well as street drinking and anti-social behaviour rather than homelessness.”
When asked why rough sleeping had been included in the PSPO as an “anti-social activity”, Nicholas said such activity was not being targeted.
Nicholas said the order was helping those on the streets who had previously refused to engage with support services to “break the cycle”.
Nicholas described the case of one man, who moved into a hostel and is engaging with staff as a result of the intervention. “This wouldn’t have happened without a joint effort between services and the threat of legal action if he refused to engage and continued to beg on the streets,” he said.
Hackney Council has recently received £330,000 to run a cross borough single homeless project targeting rough sleeping, £250,000 from the DCLG and £80,000 from Mayor of London.
Digs will be discussing the PSPO at a ‘Reclaim Hackney’ meeting on Thurs 4th June, 7pm, Halkevi Centre, Dalston Lane.